Megan's Head

A place where Megan gets off her head.

Tag: Artscape’s Arena

Do I dare disturb the (theatre) universe?

With deep apologies to T.S. Eliot.

Last night I attended a second round of double bills in Artscape’s New Voices season. Once again I sat with a small (first play) and then further dwindled audience (second play) in the deathly hole that is my favourite theatre in Cape Town, Artscape’s Arena.

So, first to everything (no not everything, because that would take me my whole entire life) that was wrong with Artscape last night. I will only do one night. I arrived and there was a 50 person strong queue at box office, with 3 minutes to go before the show I was attending was to begin. People were texting other people to tell ushers and door people that they were struggling to pick up their tickets. I didn’t even try. Luckily I smashed into someone dashing to the venue who had a ticket for me. The usher at the door knows me. He hugged me and whispered in my ear that he missed me, from decades ago when we would improvise in On The Side, a fringe venue that we made, that has disappeared (one of many, many). We dashed up the stairs to join the tiny audience gathered for the first double bill. (More about the plays soon.) We came down at interval, when half the audience left. No music in the bar. No nothing. Bleak as hell. Ten minutes later we traipsed up the stairs with holes in our hearts for the actors and director of the second play, who had to start the show at 8.45pm to the fifteen of us who had remained. After that show we exited into a closed and silent bar. I had to go backstage to talk to my friends in the show. There was literally nowhere to wait for them. Ironically, that was probably for the best, because both of them live in the townships and have to rely on public transport and it was getting very late. I left through the foyer tunnel. I noticed hundreds of posters for shows that I had not heard about anywhere else. You know what Artscape? You need to do proper publicity. I looked for information on the website. It was outdated by months. You know what Artscape? You need a regularly updated website.

So, Artscape, let’s talk about this scheduling thing. I am delighted that the work is trying to appeal to a larger, blacker audience, but how about making it easier for them to actually attend the work. Why a double bill? How can you justify it? This is not the Alexander Bar; a niche venue with 44 seats and an audience with private transport or access to Uber. Why stick with this completely shoot-yourself-in-the-foot scheduling nightmare? Ityala Lamawele was also on last night. From what I have heard, attendance has been dismal. Why? Scheduling. I saw it on its last run. It was on a Sunday afternoon and the main theatre (500 seater) was full. That would surely give you a clue about scheduling wouldn’t it? So help me understand what you are trying to do here please.

Now to the plays themselves. I am going to be hard. Three out of the four New Voices productions were particularly bad. Seriously, individually, uniquely bad. The first one was a hideous combination of industrial theatre, soap opera and school play and it was embarrassing. The second one was an unrestrained agony of misplaced internal feelings attached to a nonsensical discourse around identity, that left me reeling. The third one had lots of potential. It needed a mentor, a dramaturg, a coach and director to remove all the added on, trite, pseudo cabaret, generalised wankerage, and to get to its core story which was beautiful, and even well performed. I suggested to a friend in the know that a mentor would have been useful. She said each production had one, at great expense. Oh dear theatre gods, you have sold us down the river of theatrical hell. The last one (seen only by the few hard core die-hards) was beautiful. It was gorgeous, well conceived, moving, engaging, intelligent, original and theatrical. Not 100% so, but in comparison it was the surprise upgrade to premium class. And, it must be said, and I will mention names, Thembekile Komani and Ntombi Makhutshi you were both outstanding and a joy to watch on stage. It must be asked of the other shows, what the fuck were these mentors doing?

Now Artscape, if you are going to be spending the money, then at least do it properly. Experimental work is a must, and it is a great programme, but don’t make it so high risk for your audiences, who are making a huge effort as it is. Come on. You have a huge responsibility here, and you have a magnificent opportunity too. Please let us make this work. Mandla Mbothwe I want to help. I want theatre to win.

So You Think You Can Love

Sonia Esguiera is kak funny. And that is why her new one woman show So You Think You Can Love that opened at Artscape’s Arena last night really works. It is kak funny. The content is nothing new. A girl wants to find a boyfriend, and get married and have babies. The people in her life; her mother, best friend, personal trainer, spiritual ‘guide’ etc, are equally desperate that she hooks up. But when she does, is it Mr Right, or Mr Right On?

The thing with Sonia is that she is very, very good. Her take on this all feels fresh and fun. Her comic timing is perfect, her characterisations are spot on, her emotional connection is strong, her physicality is great. But who cares about all of that? She is bladdy hilarious, and that’s why this show is the best way to spend an hour.

It helps that it is well directed (John Trengrove) and that the set (Angela Nemov) is gorgeous, simple and surprising (you can’t believe what is hidden in, under and behind it), but again, who cares? Sonia is kak funny. She could be standing on a pile of books and be reading the telephone book (do they still make telephone books?) and she would be that. Kak funny. So go see it, and laugh.

Madame Touxflouwe

Said Too (or two) flower. It is a play, at Artscape’s Arena (still no ice at the bar), created and directed by Beren Belknap (who created and directed Out of Order). Madame Touxflouwe had its premier at Out The Box last year but last night was the first time I saw it.

This play has plenty of ingredients. It has a cast of strong and talented performers; James MacGregor, Johan Vermaak, Alex Halligey and Brendan Murray. It has excellent multimedia visuals and tricks. It has horror as a theme and one hellova lot of story. There is very delicious and lovely music. Put all these into a theatre blender and mix, and there should be a good slice of play on the table but there isn’t.

The idea is that there is a haunted house in which the same old ghoulish servants prepare a meal for the head haunt, Madame Touxflouwe, every night. She has them hooked into her story because she has been feeding on their memories (or something) and now there is the new guy who they want to make sure doesn’t leave so she can feed on his memories instead. There is so much story though, and so much exposition, it kinda gets in the way of the plot.

I kept on struggling to stay engaged, right from the very beginning. When we sat down James, as the terribly nervous  cleaner, was cleaning, and setting the table. And that’s how the show starts when the lights go down and come back on again. This sets the tone for an evening of endless repetition. I guess it has to do with the fact that everyone is dead, so they do the same thing every night. Only it’s quite hard for an audience to watch the same thing over and over again.

It’s the same thing with the characters; Henry (Johan) shouts and victimises, Vladimir (Brendan) moves between thug and simpering creep, and Tilly (Alex) is a silent, haunted waif. This is a great place to start but these characters don’t go anywhere. They don’t change in any way, and they don’t affect each other to change. It’s very hard to care about them. Then there is the dialogue, which is also drearily repetitive, with characters saying the exact same things over and over again. A bit like me, here.

I must confess, I started squirming about twenty minutes in. Which was not good because the show was an hour and a half long.

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